Lawmakers reach deal on FAA bill that beefs up security, eases long lines

House and Senate committee leaders unveiled a short-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday that would beef up airport security and ease long checkpoint lines, following weeks of negotiations and leaving Congress just nine days to act before the agency’s legal authority expires.

{mosads}The legislation, which would authorize FAA programs at current funding levels through September 2017, is expected to get a House vote on Thursday or Friday under an expedited process. 

If the bill receives the necessary two-thirds majority for passage, it would tee up a vote in the Senate for sometime next week. The FAA’s current legal authority expires July 15.

The deal contains a number of permanent policy add-ons related to aviation security, drones and consumer protections, according to a summary sheet. But it falls short of the wide-ranging packages that the House and Senate transportation committees each approved earlier this year.

“We have reached an agreement on an FAA extension that provides much-needed stability for our aviation system through September 2017,” committee leaders said in a joint statement. “This bill includes significant airport security reforms as well as critical aviation safety provisions and time-sensitive enhancements for air travelers. We look forward to sending this measure to the president.”

On aviation security, the bill would allow the Transportation Security Administration to donate unneeded screening equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S.; expand the TSA’s PreCheck program; tighten the vetting of airport employees; and increase the presence of special teams with bomb-sniffing dogs around airport perimeters.

The bill’s release comes as the TSA has been grappling with two major terrorist attacks on airports abroad in recent months, as well as overwhelmed security lines this spring that resulted from reductions in staff. 

Under the measure, the process for deploying drones during emergencies and disaster response would be streamlined, while a new program would be established for detecting and mitigating unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft around airports and other critical infrastructure. Test sites for drones would be reauthorized through 2020.

The FAA extension also would require air carriers to refund baggage fees when items are lost or delayed, require the Department of Transportation to issue a rule aimed at improving air travel for persons with disabilities and require airlines to ensure that children 13 years old or younger are seated adjacent to an adult or older child traveling with them.

House lawmakers had tussled over a long-term version of the FAA bill that contained a controversial proposal to separate the nation’s air traffic control system from the FAA, while the Senate’s version avoided a collision over renewable energy tax extenders that Democrats were trying to attach to the bill.

The new extension does not contain any air traffic control reform, according to the summary. 

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters on Wednesday that there were efforts on both sides of the aisle and Capitol to attach tax extenders to the latest FAA bill but said they have “been tamped down in the interest of trying to get this done before the deadline.”

“We have only until next week,” he said.


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